Group branded 'extremist' challenges Cameron to debate

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A controversial religious group at the centre of a political row today challenged Conservative leader David Cameron to join it in a public debate.

Mr Cameron on Wednesday challenged Prime Minister Gordon Brown over schools run by the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation (ISF), which he said received £113,000 from the Government - some of it from a fund designed to prevent violent extremism - even though it was linked to the militant group Hizb ut Tahrir.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls yesterday accused Mr Cameron of "divisive smears", saying the cash going to the schools in Slough and the north London borough of Haringey was in fact intended to fund free nursery places for three- and four-year-olds.

Ofsted looked into both schools after allegations were initially made and established that the claims against them were "unfounded", he said.

Hizb ut Tahrir today accused Mr Cameron of using Parliamentary privilege to recycle old, false allegations.

At a press conference in central London, spokesman Taji Mustafa said Mr Cameron sought to "score cheap points over a Government in decline" by using "fraudulent misrepresentations".

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, Mr Cameron described ISF as a "front organisation" for Hizb ut Tahrir which Tony Blair promised to ban in the wake of the July 7 bombings in London in 2005.

The Tory leader urged Mr Brown to "get a grip on this issue" and proscribe Hizb ut Tahrir.

"This is a school set up by extremists, passed by Ofsted and approved by the Charity Commission, but in receipt of public money," said Mr Cameron.

"We've got a Government that says it wants to prevent extremism, yet its money is funding extremists."

Mr Mustafa said Mr Cameron had used the word "extremism" to hound people whose views he disliked but who had broken no law and he had "heightened a climate of suspicion and fear which is aimed at silencing Muslim voices that dissent from his views and norms".

Mr Mustafa said the allegation that the two schools were a front for Hizb ut Tahrir was false.

"We don't decide policy. We aren't involved in admissions. This smear that Mr Cameron is trying to bring forward is baseless."

Dr Abdul Wahid, chairman of the UK executive committee of Hizb ut Tahrir, added there was "no relationship" with the schools.

"It's absolutely not a front for Hizb ut Tahrir," he said.